What should be done?
Unfortunately there is no single, cheap and effective fix. Eradicating bovine TB will take many years, working in cooperation with many sectors and groups of people, including farmers, the Government, land owners, scientists and conservation bodies. The Wildlife Trusts believe an evidence-based and scientifically reliable approach must be developed to counteract the risk posed to cattle by bTB. We are calling on the Government to abandon its failed culling policy and take immediate action to:
1. Accelerate research into cattle vaccination and improve testing regimes for cattle
Cattle vaccination offers the best long-term solution to reduce bTB in the cattle population. A cattle vaccine has been researched, tested and trialed but must be accredited before it can be used. Accreditation is not currently possible, since an EU ban remains in place on the use of such a vaccine. The ban exists because vaccination of cattle can interfere with the tuberculin skin test (which is the primary diagnostic test for TB in cattle), making it difficult to tell the difference between vaccinated and infected cattle. A more advanced diagnostic test called a DIVA test could help resolve this issue.
2. Reduce cow-to-cow infections - the major cause of TB infection
The risk of spreading disease when cattle are transported (either locally or nationally) can be minimised by tightening movement controls on cattle even further.
3. Ensure higher standards of biosecurity on farms
Biosecurity is about reducing the risk of disease transmission. We know that bTB can be transmitted by direct contact (e.g. nose-to-nose) or indirect contact (e.g. via contaminated pasture) but simple exclusion measures can be 100% effective in preventing badgers from accessing cattle water troughs, feed troughs and mineral licks, or entering farm buildings. Further information is available on the TB hub.
4. Help to roll out badger vaccinations
Badgers can be vaccinated against bTB. Badger vaccination aims to reduce the spread of bTB in the badger population, with the intention of reducing the risk of cattle contracting TB.
In a clinical trial, vaccinated badgers were 76% less likely to test positive to a test of progressed bTB infection; and 54% less likely to test positive to any of the available live tests of infection. In the same clinical trial, vaccination also reduced the risk of disease transmission to un-vaccinated cubs: when more than a third of the badger social group was vaccinated, the risk to un-vaccinated cubs was reduced by 79%.
Vaccination does not remove infected badgers from the population but it does reduce their ability to infect other badgers, which are protected by the vaccine. Over time, any infected badgers will die off and the prevalence of infection within the badger population is expected to decline.
Vaccination is also cheaper than culling. Data from 2015 showed that the cost of vaccinating a badger was £82, while the cost of culling each badger was more than £2,400.